Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Minister casts doubts on tests for euro entry"

With most of us thinking of nothing besides Sarah and Gordon Brown's personal tragedy, all talk of euro splits seemed not only inappropriate, but also trivial. But politics can be a cruel and dirty game. I will never forget how the plotting for the succession to the Labour leadership began even before the official announcement of John Smith's death. And despite all the media insisting that they respected the Browns' privacy, most papers used the photograph of the distraught couple leaving the hospital after Jennifer's death.

The Treasury is not a happy place to be at the moment. The senior official Gus O'Donnell, formerly John Major's press secretary, must be wishing he had joined the staff of No 10 when Tony Blair tried to poach him last year. It's one thing for the likes of Charles Clarke, chairman of the Labour Party, to question the Chancellor's policy on the euro, but for a civil servant to do so is almost unprecedented. Yet O'Donnell was simply telling students the obvious truth that, at the end of the day, it will be politicians who decide whether there should be a referendum on Britain's entry to the euro. In that sense, it is a "political" decision. The problem is that O'Donnell's words give people like Clarke, who would be against the euro if he thought Brown was in support, the chance to question the Chancellor's authority.

I don't know how anyone could be politically naive enough to believe that casting doubt on the five tests will in some way force the Treasury to back down and, hey presto, we will happily join the euro. With the Chancellor's mind on other matters, euro-hating papers may think they have a real chance to undermine the five tests. But somehow I think that even his enemies know when it's time to shut up.

This article first appeared in the 14 January 2002 issue of the New Statesman, A kosher conspiracy?